Bangladesh and Myanmar today formed a 30-member joint panel to oversee repatriation of Rohingya refugees within two months, despite rights groups warning that their safety is not assured in the Buddhist majority country. “Now, we will start the next step of our work,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister A H Mahmood Ali told reporters. In a statement, Bangladesh foreign office said that the working group will develop physical arrangements for the refugees’ return, including mechanisms for verification, time schedule, transport and logistical arrangements, reception procedures and communication. It said the working group would “ensure commencement of repatriation within two months”. The joint working group “shall involve assistance of the UNHCR and other mandated UN agencies and interested international partners in various stages of repatriation”.
It would comprise equal number of representatives from each side to undertake “all necessary measures to start the safe and voluntary return, resettlement and reintegration process of displaced Myanmar residents”. The joint panel was formed in line with the November 23 memorandum of understanding signed by Myanmar with Bangladesh to take back hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who fled their homeland to escape a military crackdown. The development came a day after UN human rights body chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said he would not be surprised if a court one day ruled that acts of genocide had been committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority. “The elements suggest you cannot rule out the possibility that acts of genocide have been committed,” Zeid told BBC, describing the attacks on Rohingyas to be “well thought out and planned”.
Meanwhile, US-based Human Rights Watch today termed the November 23 agreement as a mere “public relations stunt”, saying Maynmar Army burned dozens of buildings within days of signing the repatriation deal with Bangladesh. The rights group, citing analysis of satellite imagery, said buildings in 40 villages were destroyed in October and November, increasing the total to 354 villages that had been partially or completely razed since last August. Over 655,000 Rohingyas fled across the border to Bangladesh since the crackdown began on August 25, bringing horrific accounts of rape, extrajudicial killing and arson. “Myanmar is playing the most cynical of games, with Aung San Suu Kyi and her team signing a refugee repatriation deal that contains no real guarantees of protection to returnees, while on the ground the security forces continue their campaign of torching the villages the Rohingya want to return to,” the HRW statement said.